No compromise with quality

By increasing engagement, high-quality video viewing experiences reduce viewer churn, and improve loyalty too, says Martin Helmer, regional director, media, MENA, Akamai Technologies
Content, Mobile video, Video, Video optimisation, Akamai, CDN, Content delivery, Quality of service, QoS, Video acceleration, Video solutions, Video technology, Video streaming, Streaming quality, HD, TV, Buffering

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CommsMEA: Why is mobile video optimisation such a big topic these days?

Video distributors realise that viewers expect “TV quality” when watching their favourite shows, irrespective of where they are or what device they’re using. In fact, a recent Akamai study revealed that high-fidelity video streams delivered without buffering improve the viewer’s engagement with story lines to great effect. By increasing engagement, these high-quality viewing experiences reduce viewer churn, and improve loyalty too. With the OTT market more competitive than ever before, building loyalty and trust amongst viewers is essential.

As the quality of streaming experiences improves, viewers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices to watch content. In fact, one large sporting event in 2017 generated an audience of over 25 million viewers – the majority of whom were watching via mobile devices.

However, satisfying these mobile audiences – especially during large sports events – requires careful planning to ensure scale and quality can be delivered. With several large sporting events taking place this year, we are likely to see more developments emerge that improve mobile video streaming, such as the use of predictive delivery.

CommsMEA: What are the key factors impacting QoS in this environment?

There are several factors that impact mobile video QoS, however, it’s important to understand the relationship between viewer QoS metrics and business success to determine which are important to your business.

The mobile video alliance cites several QoS indicators, such as video start-up time, buffering, video resolution and service availability. Whilst the over-simplistic answer to impacting many of these metrics is ‘improved connectivity’, the reality is a lot more nuanced. Factors such as optimal encode profiles, video player sophistication, and correctly structured workflow all have a major impact on mobile video QoS – amongst others. As an example, a recent study by Akamai showed how a well-designed video player integrated with a CDN can reduce buffering by over 30%. Understanding the complex relationship between these factors is essential to improving viewer experiences.

CommsMEA: Companies like Google and Facebook are optimising traffic to and from their servers. For MNOs, what network optimisation techniques exist/are most popular? And what are the main tools available to content firms/OTT providers in optimising the video experience?

For many years, CDNs have been optimising traffic across the internet on behalf of MNOs and content distributors alike, and today are regarded as essential to delivering a great viewing experience.

To help distributors optimise the viewing experience further, CDNs continue to launch next generation technologies that meet the streaming demands of tomorrow. And with a number of sporting events on the cards for this year, where live streaming to mobile devices will no doubt increase, CDNs will continue to develop and refine their techniques in order to improve the viewing experience.

These include video acceleration technologies that improve the consistency and throughput of video to viewers, irrespective of local conditions. This is something we have developed at Akamai, and in recent tests, these video acceleration technologies reduced buffering by over 24%, and improved throughput by 12.5%.

CommsMEA: How are CDNs evolving to meet future demands in mobile video growth?

CDNs are highly dynamic infrastructures and will continue to evolve their core technology. The ever-increasing need for higher quality video at scale means that providers are having to innovate in order to deliver premium viewing experiences.

Media efficiency technologies are one of the key capabilities being developed. This includes peer assisted delivery and multicast, which are essential to ensuring video can be delivered at scale to TV sized audiences.

Media Acceleration technologies are also key, such as the use of hybrid UDP-HTTP streaming, which ensure the delivery of the highest quality video consistently.

Media scaling technologies, such as predictive video delivery, help ensure that congestion can be bypassed within the internet to optimise the route between video and viewer.

Finally, service support technologies – such as Akamai’s broadcast operations control centre – continue to be refined, providing glass-to-glass monitoring of services to ensure a superb viewer experience.

CommsMEA: Is it possible to kill off buffering?

Delivering video through the internet consistently, on any device, without buffering is fraught with challenges. These challenges range from congestion within the internet, congestion across mobile networks, congestion on WiFi networks, sophistication of player technology/apps and sub-optimal encoding profiles being amongst the most prevalent.

That said, it is entirely within our grasp to reduce buffering to a level that is barely perceivable by viewers. This can only be achieved however through a strategic integration of the value chain. This includes use of new client technologies that support video acceleration and pre-positioning to improve delivery consistency, integration of proactive service support so that issues can be identified before they happen, and strategic integration of player technology with CDNs to reduce delivery challenges and improve issue analysis. A fully integrated and seamless workflow is common across broadcast delivery and as the online market matures, we are seeing the same exacting approach deliver significant reduction in buffering and improvements to the viewer experience.

CommsMEA: Would an industry-wide standard in terms of what constitutes a high-quality streaming video experience help?

Yes!  Quality is a subjective term when it comes to video experiences online.  What distributors think of as ‘high quality’ can vary depending on the device, business model and, sometimes, the location. For example, viewers want start-up times for timely content, such as live-sports or news, to be very quick but this becomes less important when downloading a movie.

At Akamai, we work with customers on a case-by-case basis to understand these variations, and optimise encode profiles against different content genres, devices and locations. However, standards should be set, as these can identify not only which QoS measures are required but also how these can be applied to business success.

CommsMEA: How is your company involved in this area, what steps of the chain can you help with? And what are the most common requests you get from customers when they want to optimise for mobile video?

Akamai works with some of the world’s most innovative and creative media brands, and helps to deliver against exacting requirements for some of the largest global audiences. By ensuring the best possible video quality across devices, Akamai’s Media services help content distributors to deliver powerful stories online, and ensure the highest engagement of their audiences.  We provide customers with a range of services throughout the workflow including liveOrigin services, media storage services, media delivery services, media acceleration technologies, media analytics and service support.

Customers delivering specifically to mobile devices often look carefully at device and player technology to ensure they are delivering the optimal viewing experience possible. To help our customers improve QoS, we provide optimal encode profiles across different devices and content genres to ensure customers deliver the best viewing experience without worrying about buffering or slow start-up times.

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